Monthly Archives: February 2016

MIND GAMES

The degree to which one is either happy or discontent with life usually depends upon that person’s level of expectations. If one expects to achieve lofty goals but falls noticeably short, he or she will likely be quite miserable throughout their existence on this planet.  Conversely, contentment and peace of mind is often achieved when one lowers his or her expectations to a level that’s within their power to attain. If you doubt me on this, consider the following.  Since the end of WWII, four of the greatest American celebrity pop-culture icons self-imploded at a fairly young age. Each individual had achieved vast wealth and fame, with millions upon millions of adoring world-wide fans. Stuff that most ordinary people wouldn’t even allow themselves to dream of. And yet all of that was not enough, as each of the four self-destructed. 

I’m talking, of course, about Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, and Whitney Houston. Elvis, often called the King of Rock&Roll, just could not cope with all his world-wide successes. He began overeating and became fat, and finally did himself in with pills, (either uppers or downers) in 1977, at the ripe old-age of 42. Marilyn Monroe, blonde bombshell, sex-goddess, adored by millions, went from one failed marriage to another, and finally became unhireable by the movie studios because of her temper tantrums and erratic behavior. The fact that she had slept with a sitting President and his brother, the Attorney-General, apparently didn’t seem to impress her. She made it all the way to age 36, before overdosing on barbiturates. Michael Jackson, often called the greatest pop entertainer of all time, nevertheless, could not get to sleep at night without the infusion of powerful drugs. One night, those drugs did him in at age 51. And Whitney Houston allowed her immense talent to dribble away because of  bad relationships and drug abuse. She bit the dust in 2012 at age 49.

These upper-tier celebrity self-implosions were, by no means the end of it. Other recent famous suicides include Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman, two men who also seemed to have it all. So why would these famous stars, who appeared to have everything this world could possibly offer, kill themselves while the rest of us plow on through the daily grind and chaos of living. I would submit it’s because of the mismatch of expectations versus reality. When life’s expectations become so stratospherically unattainable no matter what one may have achieved, suicide often becomes the logical end-game. Consider, in contrast, the poor sugar-cane farmer in Brazil, who ekes out a barely sustainable living from selling the crops he harvests on his small farm acreage. He does back-breaking work in the fields for little pay; but it’s enough to put a roof over his family’s heads, and food on the table. At the end of the day he cherishes the small amount of leisure time afforded him, and sleeps soundly without the need for drugs. He has no expectations of vast wealth or glamour or fame, but is happy to be able to provide the bare essentials for himself his family. I guarantee that you will never read about him committing suicide. 

I bring all this up because of the supposed unhappiness of the American electorate at this point in history. Poll after poll shows a large majority of Americans as being unhappy with the course of events materializing in the U.S. these days. And not just unhappy; but often angry or furious. According to these polls, most Americans believe that the country’s best days are behind us, and that the U.S. is on a downward spiral in both its economy and in foreign affairs. According to them, the economy is flat or stagnant and the average citizen is being screwed over by bankers, hedge fund managers and other Wall Street sharpies. In foreign affairs, Islamic-Jihadist terrorists are the new barbarians at the gates chipping away at Western society, the way that the Huns and Vandals chipped away at the Roman Empire and eventually brought it to its knees. Young people supposedly believe that their lives will never be as good as what their parents achieved. To some extent these feelings are valid, but are being considerably overplayed unscrupulous politicians. 

As proof we only have to go back seven short years to early 2009. The economy had just tanked, and the unemployment rate had skyrocketed to well over 10 percent. Today it stands at just under 5 percent. Everyone that owned their home seemed to have a mortgage that was “under water,” i.e. the value of their houses were less than the mortgage amount. Even if they were able to sell their houses, the proceeds would not be enough to pay off the bank loan. People were just walking away from their homes leaving the banks to hold worthless mortgage paper, as if such paper was a rotting fish. Today, one never hears the term “mortgages under water” anymore as both the economy and real estate values have stabilized. Yes, wages have been stagnant, but so is inflation. And the sharp reduction in gasoline prices we’ve been experiencing recently is equivalent to huge tax reduction for people that drive, which is most everyone. The more one drives, the bigger the savings. On an inflation adjusted basis, gas is now cheaper than it was in the late 1950s, when I first received my license.

On the foreign front, the Islamic Jihadists do have the ability to make international headlines through random acts of barbaric terror. While these acts can be alarming or terrifying, there is virtually no threat or scenario under which Western civilization, as we know it, will be destroyed by the Jihadists. Rather, once the West increases its military operations and pressure, it will likely be the terrorist organizations that will face demise. So I guess the moral of the story is that don’t let unscrupulous and demagogic politicians running for office play mind games with your head. I won’t mention names in this piece, but you know who they are. 

The U.S. and Western civilization is not falling apart, but is actually, to a large degree, thriving. The U.S. economy is not great, but it’s definitely on the upswing. Civilized forces will eventually destroy the terrorist barbarians. Keep your expectations level-headed, and eventually the forces of good will come out on top.

 

 

Categories: Economics, ELVIS PRESLY, MARILYN MONROE, MICHAEL JACKSON, WHITNEY HOUSTON, THE STATE OF HAPPINESS VS. UNHAPPINESS, human affairs | Leave a comment

THE STATE OF WORLD INEQUALITY

An interesting statistic was published recently that didn’t get near the publicity or commentary that it deserved. According to a published report, 62 individuals who occupy this planet have accumulated the same amount of monetary wealth as half of the planet’s population. That’s over 3.5 billion people. In other words, 62 individuals have the same amount of material resources as do the economically lower half of Earth’s populace. Thus are the wonders of world capitalism that goes largely unrestrained. The breathtaking enormity of the implications behind this statistic should give pause to anyone that considers what it means to be part of the human condition at this point in time at this particular spot in the universe.

The absurdity of such wealth inequality can be best illustrated in current lifestyles prevailing among Earth’s continents. While millions in the U.S. and much of Europe fret that their lives have become almost meaningless because Apple still hasn’t put the new I-Phone 7 on the market, huge chunks of Africa, as well as large parts of Asia and Latin America, still lack electricity, sanitary drinking water, and decent bathroom facilities. For these people, a computer would be as foreign an object as a a meteor that came hurling out of the sky. Many on this planet working full time, still earn less than a dollar a day, and live under the most wretched of conditions.

To understand how all this came about, one has to return to the early days of the industrial revolution that began unfolding in the 19th century. Until that point most of the world’s population was employed as either farmers or shopkeepers, and poverty dominated in virtually all societies. Large concentrations of wealth at that time also existed among the few, who were generally monarchs and royalty that ruled most nations. But as the U.S. began its expansion in the 1800s, and with a democratic, laissez-faire government ruling the country in lieu of a monarchy, the landscape was fertile ground for development of the industrial revolution. Suddenly, a powerful force of energy known as electricity was discovered. It was discovered that oil could be excavated from the ground instead of having to rely on the killing of whales. New-fangled electronics such as the teletype, telephone, photography, and the electric light-bulb began coming on the market. A railroad system that would eventually run from coast-to-coast was in the making. And then, toward the end of the 19th century, a mammoth innovation took place with the invention of the horseless carriage. Mankind, at least in the U.S. and Europe  was on a roll, or so it seemed.

The unquenchable demand for all this output added great wealth to many societies, as capitalism provided the economic fuel that underwrote the industrial revolution. But the problem was that while certain people had an inherent talent for exploiting the industrial revolution to become fabulously rich, such as the John D. Rockafellers, or Andrew Carnage’s, others were not so fortunate. Most people who participated in heady times of 19th century industry worked for what became known as “coolie wages.” Coolies were mainly Chinese immigrants brought over to the U.S. to lay track for the developing coast-to-coast railway system. They were paid virtually nothing, and were given dismal, ramshackle quarters to sleep in, some unrecognizable slop to feed on, and usually worked 12-14 hours daily. Most died at an early age. From clothing sweatshops in Manhattan to to the drudgery of coal-mining in West Virginia, most of what was known as the working class faced similarly dismal conditions, and could be considered as capitalism’s casualties.

When Henry Ford started mass producing his automobiles in the early 20th century, he  introduced the concept of paying his employees a “living wage” which he figured was $5 a day at the time. It was good for business he claimed, besides being the decent thing to do. Thus, over the next century, many of capitalism’s rough edges started to smoothen out. Legislation was passed halting the exploitation of children in the garment and other industries. Labor unions became legal as did the right to strike for better wages and working conditions. Safety standards were established to minimize workplace accidents and casualties. The list goes on. Unquestionably, workers today in the U.S., Europe, most of Asia and parts of South America face far better working conditions and earn far better wages than their 19th century counterparts. Still, in many parts of the world, mind-numbing poverty and the most wretched living conditions continue to exist. The problem is inherent in the very nature of capitalism.

Some people’s genetic makeup is tailor-made to exploit a capitalistic economic system. Wall Street bankers and investment firms, hedge fund managers, venture capitalists, etc. generally thrive, (at least monetarily) under capitalism; while others, such as artists, writers, musicians, sculpturers, etc. generally do poorly under the same economic order. The artist may posses the same intelligence as the successful financier, but his or her mind is not made to undergo the rough and tumble competition it takes to succeed in a capitalistic society. Vincent Van Gogh or Edgar Allen Poe may have turned out the most brilliant pieces of art and literature, but both died penniless because the didn’t know how to function in a world predicated on laissez-faire capitalism. Success usually requires knowing how to defeat the competition, and artists tend to be very non-competitive. The 62 people I mentioned earlier that have as much wealth as over 3.5 billion individuals, obviously have the genetic talent to totally exploit existing capitalistic societies.

Actually, capitalism, and its inherent wealth inequality, is based almost totally on the random nature of human existence. Go into any children’s cancer ward in any major hospital, and ask why those children are  lying there bedridden or dying, while their former classmates are chasing each other around the school playground in perfect health.  All part of the randomness of the universe which doesn’t care or seek involvement in the turmoil of the human condition.

 

 

 

Categories: Economics, human affairs, politics, the Depression, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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